pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hope in God Alone

Reading: 1st Timothy 6:6-10

Verses 11-12: “Flee from all this and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.”

This week’s epistle reading begins by contrasting an earthly life with a heavenly life. Paul begins by speaking of contentment. If we have food and clothes, we can be content. He then contrasts this belief with those who “want to get rich.” Paul notes that these folks easily fall into temptations and “have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Instead, Paul encourages Timothy and us to “flee from all this and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.” He doesn’t say to try and avoid it, to see if you can ignore it. No, Paul says FLEE!! Run from the lures of this world and the evils of pursuing wealth. Escape quickly. And Paul knows this is not a one time decision. The lure of wealth keeps after us. That’s why Paul encourages us to “fight the good fight of faith.” Keep battling, keep choosing faith.

Paul invites us to pursue God and God’s ways: righteousness, godliness, and such. For Paul, if we choose to pursue these things then we experience heaven here on earth, being filled with contentment and joy. If we choose to live out our confession of faith then we will not only “lay up a good foundation for the coming age” but we will also “take hold of the life that is truly life.” We will naturally do what Paul asks those with wealth to do. We will “do good… being generous and willing to share.” Living and building the kingdom here on earth we will put our hope in God alone. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day help me to fight the good fight of faith. Guide me to do good and to be generous to others. Moment by moment empower me to resist the temptations of this world. Doing so, may I find true life in you. Amen.


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Markers of Success

Reading: Luke 16:19-31

Verse 19: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linens and lived in luxury every day.”

Photo credit: Falaq Lazuardi

Today we begin to look at a parable called “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” We will first focus on the rich man. We will turn to Lazarus and other aspects of the story later in the week. In the opening verse we read about the rich man. To dress in purple was a sign of wealth and power. To wear fine linens implied a life of leisure. Both of these are signs of success. Living in luxury every day was a sign of great wealth. The rich man has arrived. He has the life. That is how society would see him, right?

The standards haven’t changed much. Our culture looks at someone in fancy clothes, jetting here and there, living large as the epitome of success. In worldly terms, yes, they have achieved a certain status. For the rich man, this became his focus. Living for self became his goal. In the story it doesn’t sound like he gave Lazarus much thought. He does know his name. At some point he at least noticed the poor beggar lying outside his door. But Lazarus wasn’t worth much attention. Too busy enjoying and living life!

While I certainly don’t jet around or dress in fine linens, I do struggle at times to “see” those in need. I can get caught up in my version of success. By nature, I’m a doer, a checklist maker. These are my markers of success – getting things done, accomplishment, focus. I can get so busy chasing after these things that I can blow past the person in need that God has placed at my door. I can get frustrated when a person or circumstance is forced, rightly so, upon my organized and planned out life. What are your markers of success that can compete with loving the one that God places in your path?

Prayer: Lord God, when I get a bit too self-absorbed, bring me back down to the heart of love that lives inside of me. Gently nudge me, smack me upside the head – do what you need to do to remind me to love others as Jesus loves me. Lessen the self inside me so that others become my focus. All for your glory. Amen.


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Be Generous

Reading: Luke 16:1-9

Verse 3: “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job.”

The gospel lesson for this week is one of Jesus’ most difficult teachings. It is one we can read through again and again and still scratch our heads. Is Jesus really commending someone for being dishonest? For cheating his boss? After all, the manager reduces debts owed to his master or boss, all to make those debtors indebted to him instead. And when the boss finds out, he commends the manager for acting shrewdly. Maybe money isn’t the most important thing in the world. Maybe the way we use money is what really matters. Jesus seems to agree. In verses 9 he advises, “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

The master was impressed because the manager used money to gain an advantage – in this world. Here is where Jesus differs. He advises us to use earthly wealth to gain advantage in the life to come. A time of hardship led the manager to act as he did: “What shall I do now?” he thought. We all find ourselves in places of hardship. We all know people who are in hardship. Whether on the receiving end or on the giving end, Jesus advises us to be generous with our money – which is really God’s money. Use earthly wealth to help others, to alleviate hardship, to build relationships and connections. Do so not for our own earthly gain, but do so for the glory of God. Then, in the end, we will know heavenly blessings. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be shrewd with the money you’ve blessed me with, using it in ways that reveal your love and care for us all. May my sharing be counter cultural, leading to conversations about faith, about compassion, about generosity. Amen.

My master is taking away my job.”


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Even Though

Reading: Hosea 11:1-7

Verse 2: “The more I called Israel, the further they went from me.”

As God speaks at the start of Hosea 11, we are reminded that God loved Israel and rescued them from slavery in Egypt. This is but one of many stories of God redeeming and guiding the beloved family of God. Another aspect of this familiar pattern comes in verse 2: “The more I called Israel, the further they went from me.” This is the other half of the cycle. For the Israelites, their relationship with God was often one of sin and repentance, forgiveness and restoration. Our faith can follow a similar path.

God laments how the people have turned to false gods. It is a choice we all make in our lives. Whether it is pursuing wealth or popularity or power, at times our focus is askew. We prioritize something other than God. God laments that the people do not recognize who healed them, who led them in love, who lifted the yoke, and who bent down to feed them. At times we too fail to see the work of God in our lives. We can miss the fact that the door that opened or the hole we avoided falling into was God’s hand at work. The verses for today close with a reality: “My people are determined to turn from me.” How often God must think this of me.

Even though we are not always what God designed us to be or who God wants us to be, God’s love remains. Even though we must sorely disappoint God at times, God’s compassion never fails. God ever desires to wrap us in love and kindness. It is a no-matter-what love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you formed me in my mother’s womb. You’ve loved me since the thought began. I know your love, your compassion. You’ve rescued me and have forgiven me, again and again. Even so, I stray, I wander, I sin. Thank you for a love that always, always reached out, ever drawing me back into right relationship. Amen.


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Possible with God

Reading: Mark 10: 17-27

Verse 21: “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor… Then come, follow me.”

Photo credit: Mitchel Lensink

Jesus speaks often about money and/or possessions. Both of these things are signs of wealth. Almost all of us who read this have been raised in a culture that values the accumulation of wealth above all else. We’ve all been taught to display our signs of wealth as a measure of our success. Things weren’t any different in Jesus’ day. The main character is described as “the rich young man.” He is not described as ‘the one who really wanted to follow Jesus with lots of stuff.’

The man runs up to Jesus, falls at his feet, and wants to know what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus begins with the commandments. Yes! The young man has kept all of these. Then Jesus goes deeper. We wish he wouldn’t. Faith would be so much easier if it were just keeping a few rules and knowing what Jesus said. We could just check the boxes and then get back to enjoying this blessed life that we’ve worked so hard to build. Going deeper, looking for more than surface-level commitment, Jesus says, “One thing you lack…” Boy this is hard to hear. There is more required? Yes. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor… Then come, follow me.” Everything? To rid ourselves of the clingy webs of this consumeristic world, do we really need to sell everything? We at least need to be truly willing to. The value of wealth is so deeply ingrained in us that this concept is probably too much for most of us to seriously consider. The man’s face became sad and he went away dejected. He could not do what Jesus asked of him. Would we too walk away sad?

When we pursue and love wealth more than we pursue and love God, we are not living a life that leads to eternal life in heaven. In our day and age can we even live outside of the cultural norm that values wealth above all else? On our own, no. In verse 27 we read, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” With God may we release our grip on the things and ways of this world, instead holding fast to God and the way that leads to life eternal.

Prayer: Lord God, bend me towards your will and way. Pry my hands off of my things and put my hands and feet and lips to service in your kingdom. May I build relationships and bonds of love, not piles of finite things. Amen.


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Don’t Show Favoritism

Reading: James 2:1-10

Verse 1: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.”

Photo credit: Elena Mozhvili

In our passage from James there is a clear call to be aware of our tendency to judge and stereotype and to make distinctions based on appearances. In verse one we read, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” James’ audience came by this tendency naturally, as we do today. Society has always valued those with wealth and status and power. That is why so many people chase after these things. This preference for and to certain people was having a negative impact on the church. If allowed to persist it has damaging effects.

James points out the tendency to welcome the wealthy person, trying to find them a really good seat, a place of honor. He opposes how a poor person is received as they are asked to sit on the floor or to stand in back – places of dishonor. The world treats the wealthy and powerful real well, hoping to get a little something out of it for themselves. In this process we devalue the poorer person, clearly making them feel less than. In verse four James asks us, “have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” The answer is ‘yes we have.’ There is always a driving force that guides how we treat others. In the scenario here in James, those with wealth and power can help out a struggling church. We too easily dismiss the one who is shabbily dressed, letting them know that they don’t matter much to us.

Treating others according to how they look on the surface is the opposite of how Jesus treated people. It ran counter to the Mosaic Law as well. James is clear on the impact of making distinctions: “If you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” These are hard and challenging words. To truly live without favoritism or judging or stereotyping is difficult. It is a call to stop making distinctions, to love and see with the heart of Jesus. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, the world clearly favors those who have over those who don’t and those who are like us over those who are not. Help me to see as you see: without judgment, without prejudice, without hate. Help me to love all as you love all. Amen.


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Rooted in Love

Reading: Ephesians 3: 14-21

Verses 17-18: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love… grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”.

Photo credit: Emma Gossett

Chapter 3 of Ephesians opens with Paul declaring himself a “prisoner” of Jesus Christ for the sake of the Gentiles. Those he once saw as so far outside of God’s love have been brought near. Paul is now the primary missionary to the Gentiles. What an amazing turnaround! Our passage today is a prayer for the Ephesians. It begins with Paul on his knees.

Ephesus was a city much like the cities and towns that we live in. The culture of Paul’s day valued wealth and status and power. Life was centered around getting more and more. The world in which these early believers lived and the audience with whom they were sharing the good news was not much different from our own contexts. Paul first prays for the Holy Spirit’s power to fill them and to strengthen their inner being. Paul asks God to make them sure of who they are in Christ Jesus.

Paul then prays, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love… grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”. Perhaps thinking of the parable of the sower found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8, Paul prays for deep roots of faith. When trouble or persecution or the cares of the world rise up, Paul prays that they will remain rooted in the love of Jesus Christ. He prays for them to understand the vastness and limitless nature of God’s love. Knowing this, they will be filled with the “measure of the all the fullness of God”. They will be filled with his love. Being filled, they will then overflow into the world. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of love, fill me, fill me, fill me. Pour out your love upon me. Fill me so full that your love washes away all that keeps me from being fully yours. Amen.


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Go, Trust, Hear

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 3: “When I called, you answered me”.

Photo credit: Alex Woods

David begins Psalm 138 with a declaration of praise. He will praise God with all of his heart and will sing of God before the “gods”. Even in David’s day there were many gods – the false gods of the pagan people all around Israel as well as the gods of this world that the Israelites chased: power, wealth, recognition. To declare one’s allegiance to God in the face of all these other gods is an important statement to make. David goes on to identify God’s love and faithfulness as the focus of his praise. These characteristics of God drive his relationship with God and will drive ours as well.

In verse three David gives us an example of how he experiences these two characteristics. Here he writes, “When I called, you answered me”. When David turned to God in prayer, God was there, God responded. This too is driven by love and faithfulness – both in David’s prayer and in God’s connection with David. We too can experience this intimacy with God. We too can turn to God and enter into his presence. We too can receive answers from God.

In the remainder of verse three we see the result of this intimate connection with God: “you made me bold and stouthearted”. David’s faith grew, deepened, was strengthened. As David did, may we also go to God in prayer, trusting in God’s love and faithfulness, waiting upon his presence. May we have ears to listen and hearts to perceive God’s response.

Prayer: Loving and faithful God, I praise you this day! You are ever attentive, always present. Continue to strengthen and deepen my relationship with you and my walk of faith. Give me patience to trust into your love, to lean into your presence. Amen.


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Set Aside

Reading: Psalm 4

Verse 1: “Answer me when I call to you… Be merciful to me and hear my prayer”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

In Psalm 4 David cries out to God. He is direct and open and honest. He begins the Psalm pleading with God to answer when he calls, to hear his prayer, and to grant him mercy. There is a trust that David has in God. Over the course of his lifetime David has experienced God’s faithfulness and mercy, his grace and love. As we journey in faith with God, we experience this same building up of trust in God.

David is distressed by those in Israel who have turned from God. They are chasing after false gods. David calls them “delusions”. David could be writing these words today to the many people who chase after worldly things – power, acclaim, wealth, popularity. David asks, “How long”? How long will they chase after these delusions? None of these things last; none of them bring peace of heart and mind, none bring true joy or lasting contentment.

David reminds these lost souls, “Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself”. This is not just for today or even for next year. It is forever. God wants all people to love him more than these earthly charms. Yet some do not recognize the Lord of life, the giver of peace. As children of God, we have been set apart. Yes, the things of this world still draw us in, still call out to us. But the power of the Holy Spirit is greater, God’s love for us is stronger. In faith may we remember God’s righteousness and mercy, being strengthened for each day. Being strengthened may we live as a child of God each day, set apart for his purposes. As such, may we be in the world but not of it.

Prayer: Father God, strengthen me for the battles ahead. Be they big or small, walk with me. Guide me thoughts, words, and actions. May self be set aside to bring you all the glory. Amen.


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Fringes and Edges

Reading: Matthew 9: 9-13

Verse 11: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”?

Photo credit: Marten Newhall

Our passage today opens with Jesus calling another disciple as he walks along the road. The man he calls us named Matthew. He was sitting in his tax collector’s booth when Jesus said, “Follow me”. It’s hard to say what an equivalent calling would be today. Tax collectors were almost universally disliked and hated. They worked for the occupying force, the Romans, collecting taxes to pay for the enemy to stay in power. Most tax collectors gathered well above and beyond what the Romans required. Becoming rich was a side perk of this government job. Being wealthy was nice but the occupation limited one’s circle of friends. Matthew’s crowd would be limited to other tax collectors and others who took advantage of others. Money lenders, prostitutes, slave traders… would have been among the crowd at Matthew’s house as Jesus joined them for dinner.

Upon seeing the crowd that Jesus has chosen to become a part of, the Pharisees ask, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”? Why would Jesus call one of these to discipleship, to following him? Why would Jesus sit amongst this crowd of sinners? I suppose some people today think the same thing when they see their pastor emerging from the hymn sing at the local brewpub or when they see members of the outreach team exiting the local strip club. In response Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”. Jesus did not come to just sit around the temple or local synagogues chatting with the faithful about the scriptures. Yes, Jesus did this and this habit continues to be a very important part of our faith journey. But Jesus also spent the majority of his time doing ministry out in the world – among the tax collectors and sinners, among the hurting and broken, among the Gentiles and others who were marginalized by the religious establishment. These are the ones in need of a “doctor”. These are the ones in need of healing, wholeness, love, a sense of community.

Who are the tax collectors of your neighborhood or community? Who are those on the fringes and edges? How can you minister to these that Jesus surely would have?

Prayer: Lord God, make my heart and will more like yours. Guide my feet to those in need of your love and care. Bring me past the barriers and fears in my mind, trusting more fully in your guidance and direction. Amen.